Finished March 15
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated from the French by Alison Anderson
This novel blew me away. I loved it and could barely put it down. Philosophical, funny, poignant, intelligent, and insightful all fit to describe it.
There are two people telling the story here. Paloma is a twelve-year-old girl, observant and smart. She doesn't really like her parents or older sister, feeling them to be superficial and not as smart as they think they are. She feels that life is absurd and doesn't want to go through her life dealing with that, so she plans to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday. As she looks toward this she decides to keep a journal where she records profound thoughts in the form of a Japanese poem, trying to have as many as possible. Why Japanese? Well, she admires Japanese culture and has chosen Japanese as her second language at school. As time passes, she also decides to keep a second journal looking for the beauty in things or people.
The second speaker is Renée Michel. Madame Michel is the concierge of the apartment building that Paloma and her family live in. There are eight apartments on six floors. Four floors have only one apartment on the whole floor, about 4000 square feet, and the other two floors have two each. Madame Michel has a taste for culture in books, films, thoughts, and food. But she knows the image that people commonly have of what a concierge is, and she tries to make her public persona fit this image. She has one friend, Manuela Lopes, who works as a cleaner for several of the apartment owners, an honest worker with a skill for pastry making among other things.
During the twenty-seven years that Madame Michel has worked there, the only changes to the ownership have been when one generation of a family passes the apartment down to the next. So, when one of the apartments is sold to someone new, this is a major event, for everyone.
The new owner is also smart and discerning and the dynamics of the major players change as they begin to see each other as they really are, and make connections.
This story is a wonderful one, yet hard to describe adequately. I loved it.